Confronting Silence:

A reconceptualist exploration into the impact of HIV/AIDS, poverty and the legacy of apartheid on young children in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa

A Dissertation by Jane Barbara Habermehl for her MA in Education
Goldsmiths College, University of London September 2012


This study is largely an ethnographic approach to investigating the impact of poverty, the legacy of apartheid and the HIV/AIDS pandemic on young children in rural Kwa-Zulu-Natal.
The breakdown of family and cultural cohesion here has been acknowledged on a national level and although acknowledged locally what is of more cause for concern is the silence surrounding the pandemic stemming from fear, shame and lack of knowledge. Lack of inter-generational communication in the midst of this crisis can be psychologically damaging for young children and lack of guidance can leave teenagers vulnerable to pregnancy and HIV infection.
Taking a reconceptualist approach and focusing on the cultural context of the child’s environment the study draws on the wisdom and experience of black African voices as well as research and study into the crisis by contemporary western academics.
There are strengths within the community, particularly amongst early years educators and community support workers which with financial input could form an effective resource. There is also a range of care, counselling and practical support given locally by a collaboration of NGOs and civic bodies.
However these initiatives need to support the empowerment of the community so that there is continuity in cultural strengths and traditions alongside growth and development. The community needs to regain self esteem and the power of its own voice to work actively alongside the social and medical teams. I suggest culturally sensitive local initiatives that address empowerment through drama, art, discussion and workshops

For children the use of persona dolls to encourage verbalisation of fears would supplement nurturing family and community support.

Download the dissertation here

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    Devon Centocow Link

    Jane Habermehl an early years specialist teacher made links with a group of schools in Rurual Kwa-Zulu-Natal in September 2001. The Exmouth Centocow Linking Assoc. was formed on her return and over the years she has shared her knowledge of pre-schools in South Africa and revisited the teachers on several occasions.
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    Rural Pre-school teachers of the Centocow area need your support.

    The aim of my original trip to Centocow in 2001 was to work alongside pre-school teachers, helping them to set up an association which would unite them and give them mutual support and become a force for group training. Each time I visit I learn more about the country and its culture and feel privileged to work alongside these dedicated teachers. The teachers here work on a voluntary basis in very inadequately resources buildings.

    In 2001 there were eighteen pre-schools and now their number has swelled to sixty. Working with Zimbili Dlamini, the co-ordinator of the Family Literacy Project we have divided the schools into six clusters by area. Each cluster chose a co-ordinator who would arrange a meeting every six to eight weeks to share resources and support each other, helping each other with funding applications. They would have a smaller transport bill and Zimbili would be a nominal co-ordinator distributing funds for transport and refreshment costs but twice a year calling whole Association meetings for training purposes. The first of these will be in December when a social worker will visit them to advise them on the lengthy and complex bureaucratic process of registration.

    Registration does not give the teachers other than a nominal quarterly payment but it does ensure that their provision is adequate in a basic sense and the big bonus is that they receive good food for the children they care for on a daily basis.

    By Jane Habermehl.

    Devon Centocow Link is committed to pay the teachers’ travel costs to their meetings and for maintaining a few essential resources such as scissors crayons and glue. See the whole article at
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